Allergies, Asthma, and Keratoconus

The risk for keratoconus is increased in people who have asthma (as reported by the American Optometric Association). More than 23 million people in the US are living with asthma, and the onset of this health disorder often begins in childhood. Meanwhile, the National Keratoconus Foundation reports a link between allergies and keratoconus. Allergies that cause upper respiratory symptoms – such as watering nose and eyes – are most often linked to later keratoconus development.

It is important to receive treatment for keratoconus as early as possible to avoid future vision loss. The Precision Keratoconus Center has more than 50 sites spread across many states in the US. This eye disorder affects the cornea, and severe vision impairment can occur without treatment.

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Understanding the Link Between Allergies and Asthma

Allergies causing upper respiratory symptoms are medically-termed allergic rhinitis (AR) and the following are four of the most common AR allergens:

  • Pet dander (e.g., cat hair);
  • Tree pollen;
  • Dust mites;
  • Cigarette smoke

A research article in 2018 in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine noted that AR and asthma are often co-disorders in afflicted people (and that around 80 percent of people with asthma have AR). The inflammatory process that affects the airway is similar in AR and asthma, but the involvement of the lower airway in asthma is the reason that asthma is generally considered the more life-threatening health disorder. Globally, around 250,000 people die prematurely each year from asthma.

Eye-Rubbing and Upper Respiratory Symptoms

Children who have watery eyes often rub them, and persistent eye-rubbing is linked to keratoconus (according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and American Academy of Ophthalmology [AAO]). Notably, an article in Case Reports in Ophthalmology in 2017 suggested that persistent eye-rubbing places mechanical stress on the cornea. (While hereditary factors play a role in keratoconus, most people with this eye disorder do not have any family history of keratoconus.)

As an allergic reaction, itchy and watery eyes occur due to an abnormally high immune response triggering the release of a biochemical substance called histamine. For this reason, utilizing an over-the-counter antihistamine can be effective in reducing sneezing and itchy and/or watery eyes. However, one problem with antihistamine medications is that they can cause drowsiness.

Children with severe allergies (especially if co-diagnosed with asthma) may receive allergy shots for a typical period of 3-5 years to decrease overall sensitivity to the allergen.

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Asthma and Children

Asthma is the leading chronic disease in children in the US (per the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America). Around 8 percent of all children in the US have asthma. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  describes the following as common indoor environmental asthma triggers:

  • Cockroaches;
  • Dust mites;
  • Mold;
  • Animal dander (i.e., pet dander);
  • Second-hand smoke

The American Lung Association notes that asthma is the third-leading cause of hospitalization in youth aged 14 and younger. Frequent asthma attacks in childhood and adolescence can lead to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in adulthood – and COPD is a progressive health disorder. Asthma is usually managed with the use of rescue inhalers and long-acting bronchodilators.

Genetic Disorders and Keratoconus

There is a higher risk of keratoconus in people with specific genetic disorders (e.g., Down’s syndrome and Marfan syndrome), according to the US Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. If you have a child with either of these genetic disorders, it is a good idea to have that child screened for Keratoconus. At the any of our offices across the US, the Precision Keratoconus Center staff understand that you may have co-disorders that need to be considered in determining a course of treatment to meet your overall needs.

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